Sunday, April 21, 2024

A Harvard Square resident shovels snow after a major storm in late 2008. There are recent complaints of Public Works staffers inadvertently undoing such efforts. (Photo: j-fi)

With a major storm bearing down on the region, threatening to dump another 12 inches or more of snow on streets not quite cleared of the 12 inches from late December, city councillors looked Monday at a couple of timely policy orders.

In one, councillor Denise Simmons asked for city officials to look into the improper clearing of snow from sidewalks — including the kind resulting from Public Works plows sending cascades of snow back onto driveways and sidewalks just cleared by property owners.

“I’m hearing from a lot of callers about this,” Simmons said.

Once-cleared bus stops — she identified those on Brookline Street — have also been blockaded anew with snow, she said.

“I know Public Works works very hard to get the streets plowed … and we want people to follow our policies around proper snow removal, but it becomes a bit of a problem when you go out and shovel out your car and your walkway only to find DPW has shoveled you back in,” she said. “So I’m hoping the city manager can figure out ways we work better together at getting the snow out of the way.”

“It’s still early in the the season. If we don’t figure out a way to do it better, I suspect all of us will get numerous phone calls about it,” she said to her fellow councillors.

Not everyone relied on the phone. While the weather was still good, Jane Myers, of Charles Street, showed up in person for the council’s public comment period. While she came to express her unhappiness, she had some for residents and the Public Works department alike.

One group was clearing sidewalks inadequately and the other was failing to hold them accountable, she said.

“I walk every single day in East Cambridge, and I’m finding so many sidewalks not cleared. So I thought, ‘Okay, you use the city’s system, you go online and report them.’ But I haven’t seen anything done. I don’t see notices on the doors,” said Myers, who walks for exercise and because she has a dog. “I don’t feel DPW is enforcing the laws.”

Come Wednesday, the troubles are going to be compounded, she said.

Storm of litigation threatens

“It’s going to be terrible this week, because we’re going to get hit Wednesday with snow, and that snow is going to go on top of all the ice that people didn’t clean last time when it was only a couple of inches,” she said. “Now it’s a couple of inches of ice and it’s going to be covered by snow. And I’m not the most surefooted person, and I don’t like to fall.”

If the city doesn’t act on complaints of poor snow removal, she wondered, was the city liable in court if she slipped on snow and ice, fell and hurt herself?

After her comments, council office staffer Sandra Albano approached quietly to get information about her complaints.

Councillor Ken Reeves had his own snow removal issues and request for the city manager: He wanted to know who was responsible for clearing the sidewalks and cab stands in Central Square, where accumulated snow forced people into streets and passing traffic.

Actually, the councillors’ motions were seasonal but not quite timely, since answers won’t come before late Tuesday when the first flakes of a nor’easter are expected to land across southern New England. The National Weather Service said parts of Connecticut and Rhode Island could see up to 17 inches of snow and much of Massachusetts could see 15 or 16 inches. Cambridge falls just short of that, with 13 or 14 inches possible.

In Massachusetts, it’s parts of Cape Cod that are expected to get off easiest, with only a couple of inches to show for the storm.